You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Twitter’s Spam Headache: More Than 10 Mil Accounts Might Be Bogus

IPO filing reveals social company estimates less than 5% active users are ‘false or spam’ accounts, but it admits that could be higher

On Twitter, nobody knows if you’re a dog — or a robot, spammer or another entity that is useless to advertisers.

The social media company, in its initial public offering filing to raise up to $1 billion, disclosed that it estimates less than 5% of its monthly active user accounts are “false or spam accounts.”

But that means upwards of 10 million of Twitter’s 218.3 million average monthly users for the three months ended June 30 could be bogus.

And Twitter admits that might be low. “(O)ur estimation of false or spam accounts may not accurately represent the actual number of such accounts, and the actual number of false or spam accounts could be higher than we have currently estimated,” Twitter said in the filing.

The company also noted that it treats multiple accounts held by a single person or organization as multiple users for purposes of calculating its active user base — another factor that would diminish the total addressable audience for advertisers.

The reason this matters is that Twitter is selling advertisers promoted tweets, including its video-based Amplify ads aimed at specific groups of users. Marketers will have less confidence in Twitter’s audience numbers if it can’t reliably report what portion of those are duplicate or fake accounts. (Twitter charges only for tweets that are interacted with, but that only means bogus accounts that are retweeting those are wasted impressions.)

Previous industry estimates have pegged the proportion of Twitter’s spam accounts as high as 20%. But the company said it has taken more aggressive steps to purge fake accounts this year.

“We made an improvement in our spam detection capabilities in the second quarter of 2013 and suspended a large number of accounts,” Twitter said in the S-1 filing.

Much of the problem stems from Twitter’s philosophical approach to be a completely open platform. Twitter does offer “verified” accounts for a number of high-profile accounts (like @WarrenBuffet). But otherwise, it’s pretty much anything goes. Facebook, by contrast, requires that users to use real identities on the service, which gives it more certainty that those accounts are actual individuals; Facebook also tracks demographic data entered by its users, including gender, location and age.

Spamming activities on Twitter — which includes large numbers of unsolicited mentions of a user, duplicate tweets and misleading links (such as to malware or webpage-hijacking pages) — are prohibited by the company’s terms of service. Twitter also bans the creation of serial or bulk accounts to “artificially inflate the popularity of users seeking to promote themselves on Twitter.”

But spammers will continue to try to exploit Twitter, the company acknowledged, and fighting them will represent sizable ongoing operating costs.

“Our actions to combat spam require the diversion of significant time and focus of our engineering team from improving our products and services,” Twitter said in the S-1. “If spam increases on Twitter, this could hurt our reputation for delivering relevant content or reduce user growth and user engagement and result in continuing operational cost to us.”

More Digital

  • How Meta Struggled to Make AR

    The Story Behind Meta, the AR Startup That Just Had Its Assets Sold to a Mystery Buyer

    “It’s a pretty dramatic moment in my life.” To say that Meron Gribetz, co-founder of the augmented reality headset startup Meta, has had a busy couple of months is an understatement. Meta made headlines in September when it furloughed most of its workforce after an investment round from China failed to go through. Since then, [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Farewell to Concubines: China Tightens Restrictions on Short-Form Video Sector

    Bad news for some of China’s 600 million users of short-form video platforms: No more content depicting foot fetishes, spoofs of the national anthem or sympathy for extramarital affairs, according to new regulations. Worse news for the companies that serve such consumers: They’re now expected to step up their censorship efforts and assume responsibility for [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized by the [...]

  • Netflix Claims 'Fortnite' Is a Bigger

    Netflix Claims 'Fortnite' Is a Bigger Competitor Than HBO

    It may be mostly gamesmanship, but Netflix says it’s not really focused on rival streaming-video services from Amazon, Hulu, Disney, WarnerMedia or other big players as much as improving its own service to win share of consumers’ attention. “We compete with (and lose to) ‘Fortnite’ more than HBO,” Netflix told investors in its quarterly letter [...]

  • Netflix - Apple TV

    Netflix Turns in Record Q4 Subscriber Gain, Price Increase Weighs on U.S. Forecast

    Netflix is beating Wall Street expectations for international subscriber growth — but its recently announced price increase in the U.S. may have put a damper on its momentum in the States. For the fourth quarter of 2018, Netflix reported 1.53 million paid net adds in the U.S. and 7.31 million internationally, to end the year [...]

  • Bird Box

    'Bird Box' Has Been Watched by 80 Million Subscribers, Netflix Says

    Netflix used its Q4 2018 earnings report Thursday to give us a rare update on some of its audience numbers: The company estimates that its horror-thriller “Bird Box” will be viewed by over 80 million member households in the first four weeks following its release. “We are seeing high repeat viewing,” company executives wrote in [...]

  • Crackle Latin America

    Sony Shuts Down Crackle Latin America Business

    Sony Pictures Television is folding the Crackle Latin America subscription VOD service, which has 400,000 subscribers across 17 countries, after concluding the business isn’t economically viable. Crackle Latin America first launched in April 2012 as an ad-supported streaming service — like the U.S. version of Crackle — before switching in 2016 to a subscription video-on-demand [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content